The personalities and professions of the three Missoula County Commission candidates shone brightly Tuesday as each answered 17 questions posed by the current commissioners.
Many of the responses were similar — Denver Henderson, Stacie Anderson and Juanita Vero all want to meet with the 10 elected officials in the county, to learn about their departments, and none would micromanage even though they have control over those officials’ final budgets.
The trio advocates for more and better funded social services, including mental health care, and is concerned about land use and taxes. They’re all democrats, nominated by the Missoula Democratic Central Committee to fill Democrat Nicole “Cola” Rowley’s term on the commission, and are confident in their ability to disagree without being disagreeable.
Their answers differed, however, when the questions became more personal, like what type of organizational culture they prefer for work, whether they describe themselves as having a good sense of humor, and how they would learn the job while in the public spotlight.
Henderson is the more reserved candidate, flashing an occasional smile as he studiously answered the questions. He’s spent the past decade as an organizer, developing strategies and polices with a focus on low-wage workers and marginalized communities, and his responses reflect that background.
He noted that people don’t always see eye to eye, but they need to be able to accept other people’s ideas as well as the fact that he may not have all the answers.
“The work that we are engaged in is serious. It has real consequences for people who don’t have the same access to power that other people have. Yet it’s important to have a sense of humor and get to know people on a personal level,” Henderson said. “Working with marginalized and minorities in the community instilled in me a passion to fight for and advocate for people who can’t do that.”
Anderson, who currently represents Ward 5 on the Missoula City Council, is the executive director of the nonprofit A Better Big Sky and has worked for years on social justice issues. She’s a polished public speaker who is used to the spotlight and intricacies of government.
Anderson becomes animated as she discusses policy, explaining how she uses Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to decide which essential services should be provided to county residents while operational costs are outpacing current and projected revenue growth. That hierarchy notes that basic needs like food and water must be met before psychological needs and self-fulfillment.
“No one wants to raise taxes. That’s not fun,” Anderson said. “But citizens expect a high level of service, and they’re also really generous; they’ve approved bonds … and are willing to invest in this community.”
Vero also provided spirited responses, but was a little less detailed. She’s a partner in her family’s guest ranch in Greenough, and jokingly acknowledged that her optimistic personality sometimes leads her to propose ideas that include rainbows and unicorns.
That buoyancy is tempered by the reality of running a business in which income is only generated during three months, Vero added, yet she remains upbeat.
“I’m from the Blackfoot, and we are all about win-win situations,” Vero said. “But how will we make decisions? What’s the law? What’s the science? What’s the budget? … What we need to remember too is the value of relationships.”
During the interviews, Commissioners Dave Strohmaier and Josh Slotnick listened intently and took notes, as did Chief Administrative Officer Vickie Zeier and Chief Operating Officer Christian Lounsbury.
They’ll be discussing the three candidates’ qualifications beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday at the regularly scheduled public meeting in room 206 on the second floor room of the county administrative building at 199 W. Pine St. The commissioners can choose one of the three candidates, or they can ask the Democratic Central Committee for three new candidates.
The pay for a starting commissioner is $83,900, and the successful candidate will fill out Rowley’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2020. All three of the candidates said they will run for the six-year seat in the November 2020 election.
Rowley, who has served as county commissioner since 2015, will start a new job July 1 as Gallatin County's deputy county administrator.